May 2006

Song & Dance
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber – Lyrics by Don Black

Directed by Trudy Moffatt • Choreographed by Wayne Sleep
Starring Louise Pitre, Rex Harrington and Evelyn Hart

May 9 – June 18, 2006The Music HallToronto
A report by Lesley Mitchell-Clarke
On May 9th, the sumptuously restored Danforth Music Hall opened its doors with an ambitious mounting of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song & Dance. With lyrics by Don Black and music by Webber, the show was a standing-room only hit in London’s West End, when it originally opened in 1982. The current Toronto company boasts a stellar cast that includes international musical theatre dynamo, Louise Pitre (of Mama Mia fame), former National Ballet star (and mesmerizing performer) Rex Harrington and ballerina extraordinaire, Evelyn Hart. Sadly, this uber-talented group, (led by original choreographer Wayne Sleep and directed by Trudy Moffatt) cannot pull this dated, tedious and singularly uninspiring play out of the doldrums.

Andrew Lloyd Webber is perhaps the most over-rated composer of musical theatre. His tunes are delimitative and schmaltzy. Don Black’s lyrics — although clever — cannot overcome the mediocrity of the melodies and cello-heavy orchestration. Sir Andrew has built a career on descending major and minor scales, of which this play is mercifully nearly free.

Musical Director and keyboardist Peter Aylin, has assembled an eight-piece orchestra that is oddly positioned onstage — in fact they are split in two. Each half of the octet was perched respectively on the top of the set at stage left and stage right. This fractured set-up did nothing to help the cohesion of the ensemble. Talented Canadian drummer, Mark Ineo had the difficult drum chair. From what I could see, he was sequestered behind a Lucite drum cage that effectively muffled his entire performance. There were also some perplexing gaffes in the meter, which led me to suspect that sequences and click tracks were being used — which is not in itself a problem, but can lead to deadly problems for everyone when things aren’t hooking up as they should.

In addition, startling analogue synthesizer sounds occasionally pierced the score. I’m all for bringing back fun stuff from the 80’s — after all, it is my own baby boomer nostalgia, but perhaps these particular synthesizer squeals should have remained on that old Brothers Johnson album from which they were no doubt sampled.

The first act is one long, bloated recitative, nonetheless bravely and skillfully rendered by Pitre. The sparse plot follows a young English girl in New York, her struggle for a ‘Green Card’ and her string of bad relationship choices. Ms. Pitre is a consummate performer, and certainly squeezed every bit of content that she could out of this flimsy and dated scenario. One can only hope that women have evolved since the 80’s — no longer needing to define themselves by (often transitory) romantic entanglements. The character is a skeleton, with no moveable flesh and blood for Pitre to infuse with her considerable talents.

Another major blunder would be the appalling set. Graeme Morphy’s immoveable, grey, trapezoidal set resembled an East German cold-water flat before the wall came down… or perhaps an old set from David Lynch’s Dune. Above the appliance-box like flats, large black and white projections on the cyclorama indicated the locales of the play’s setting… Los Angeles, New York City or a night sky (I think) — the locales of the play. In addition to the set’s general ugliness, it was also huge — seriously narrowing a safe performance space for the dancers.

Louise Pitre
The costumes by Ruth Moffatt are nothing short of brilliant. Ms. Moffatt created interesting wardrobe pieces for the Act One ‘one woman show’ starring Ms. Pitre that could be easily removed/added, etc., giving the character a wide variety of costume possibilities, with all costume changes taking place onstage. The breathtaking red stunner worn by Ms. Pitre in the closing number is perhaps one of the most beautiful gowns that I have ever seen on the musical theatre stage. It suited the theatrical moment and the performer to a ‘T’.

It’s no easy trick to design a series of abstractly-themed costumes that will stand up to the rigours of demanding dance sequences, but will also help define the characters of the dancers themselves, without descending into some kind of circus outfits. The colours and fabrics were sumptuous, and like an impressionist painting, brought light to the otherwise desolate stage setting.

Centrestage: Rex Harrington and Evelyn Hart
The second act of Song & Dance loosely follows the sparse plot from Act One, and features the amazing Rex Harrington and Evelyn Hart, as well as an incredibly talented supporting cast of six dancers; Jessica Dawson, Ryan Foley, Mikeal Knight, Eric Robertson, Kimberly O’Neil and Julia Juhas. Individually, they were thrilling — seamlessly floating between the disciplines of tap, modern, jazz and ballet. The entire cast has incredible chemistry with one another, and the original choreography is still effective. Harrington and Hart are a dream team — his sensuality and almost feral command of the stage is a perfect pairing with the elfin, lithe and deeply beautiful Evelyn Hart.

Mere minutes from the close of the play, the audience witnessed a truly horrible and upsetting event. Rex Harrington executed a perfect series of leaps and pique turns from stage left to right. As he approached stage right, he appeared to land strangely, and screamed in pain as he hobbled offstage. Although no official word has been released as to the extent of his injury, the show will go on with noted dancer and choreographer Roberto Campanella filling in. Hopefully Mr. Harrington’s recovery will be swift, and he will continue to delight us with his distinctive and artful style for many, many years to come.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Lesley Mitchell-Clarke
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